When is your teen ready to stay home alone?

Find out if your teen is ready, willing and able to stay home alone.

Leaving your child home alone
©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac

Alone at last: Ready or not?
How can you know if your teen is ready to spend time home alone after school or in the evening? There's no magic age, says Alan Mirabelli, executive director of The Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, because kids all mature at different rates. And the problems that might arise can change as your teen gets older. A 13-year-old may feel lonely. A 15-year-old may have to make tough decisions about allowing a less-than-responsible friend to hang out with her.

Handle this incrementally. Start with short stints after school; check in to make sure your teen is comfortable with her new freedom and that she's following the rules you've agreed to. Pay attention to how she handles problems. Did she keep her head when she burnt the popcorn and set off the smoke detector? Does she know who to call for help if she can't reach you? Does she know what to do if a stranger comes to the door? (And do you ensure that no repair person visits when she's home alone?) Nurture the lines of communication so you'll get the straight goods on how she's managing. Then you can loosen the reins appropriately.

Fear of flying solo
Who would guess that their six-foot-tall 14-year-old son might be nervous home on his own, or that their daughter might not really “just want to be left alone.”

Many teens, especially boys, may be reluctant to share these feelings for fear of disappointing you, of seeming childish or of risking a loss of any alone time.

Diane Wolf, a communication coach based in Peterborough, Ont., says you shouldn't wait for your teen to voice unhappiness. "Take him out for his favourite food and, during the meal, work into the conversation that if you were in his shoes you might sometimes feel lonelt or scared," she advises. "Then ask if these are issues for him." You may want to ask a few direct questions, but don't shut off the conversation by grilling him.

Get your fridge raid-ready
Help teens eat right when they're home alone.
• Make it easy. Yes, they can cut up their own carrot sticks, but they won't. Teens are more likely to snack on fruit and vegetables that are washed and ready to eat.
• Applesauce, bagels, bread sticks, cheese, pizza, oatmeal cookies, unsalted nuts and rice cakes are healthy, too.
• No matter how busy or tired a teen may be, popcorn is always irresistible. It's a good idea to stock up on low-fat microwave popcorn, and don't forget seasonings such as curry powder, garlic powder or Parmesan cheese.
• Limit how much high-fat, low-nutrient snack foods you keep in the house and store what you have out of sight.

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